As the nation celebrates and offers its tributes to the great visionary, Mahatma Gandhi, the beloved Father of the Nation, also fondly remembered as Bapu, on his birth anniversary on 2nd October 2020, the occasion is also an opportunity for the people of India to reflect upon his thoughts and principles.
As the world battles through uncertain and unprecedented times, the time is especially important to decode Gandhiji’s ideas and philosophy, that even today are extremely relevant and could help guide the country to achieve social, cultural and economic progress.
An important aspect of the Gandhian philosophy that gathers much significance at present is his ideas of the rural economy and sustainable development. Gandhiji had a clear vision for India’s villages and asserted that “India lives in her seven hundred thousand villages” and therefore “If the villages perish, India will perish too”.
Gandhiji extensively spoke and emphasized on overall, inclusive development of the country, self-sufficiency and rural development. As India embarks on its strategy of “Atmanirbhar Bharat”, which focusses on self-reliance, Gandhiji’s ideas become particularly relevant and could become a guiding force for India to spur greater economic growth and development.
Gandhi envisaged Indian villages as self-sufficient units and stressed on the growth of rural industries such as khadi, handloom, handicrafts and sericulture. These today could become relevant sources of non-farm rural incomes, creating employment and resulting in more equitable distribution of resources.
India, therefore, needs to encourage and drive non-farm rural incomes and engage rural households in non-farm livelihoods in sectors such as fisheries, handloom and handicrafts, non-farm manufacturing activities, transport, mining and quarrying, among others. These in turn could have positive spillover effects and will help boost farmer incomes.
These ideas of Gandhiji could serve as a guiding principle for us all. Apart from urbanization, efforts can be strengthened at transforming the rural areas to become a self-reliant economy through greater investments in good quality infrastructure, modern technology, skills and training programmes, better access to credit, and improving education and awareness. Women empowerment and creating better linkages between village entrepreneurs and large businesses are also key actions. Investments in rural industries in turn could pave the way for greater socio-economic prospects for the country by generating increased rural incomes.
Today, the Government as part of its objectives to double farmers’ incomes, has taken several steps. The Government is considering giving the status of farmers to beekeepers, while recognizing honeybees as inputs to agriculture, while diversifying the basket of beekeeping products. Attention must be placed on creating more such innovative methods of advancing non-farm rural incomes while improving agricultural productivity.
Another area with a lot of potential for generating non-farm incomes is the traditional system of medicine and healthcare such as Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy, collectively referred to as AYUSH, with a view to provide education and research in these areas. The sector has a huge potential to generate both direct and indirect employment and could benefit the rural economy tremendously as well.
Very recently, the Government launched 10,000 Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) countrywide, with the objective of empowering farmers by providing them access to various agricultural inputs to marketing their own produce. This is in line with Gandhiji’s idea of Gram Swaraj or village self-rule that focussed on the concept of every village being self-sufficient and make provision for all necessities of life.
Thus, Gandhiji’s core ideas and principles, even today are etched and intertwined in every aspect of our life. From his ideas of sanitation and his vision of a clean India to his charkha – that became a symbol of self-sufficiency and freedom, to his ideas of Gram Swaraj – all still continue to play a crucial role as not only a way of life but also as critical pillars to achieve social and economic development for all.